The main reason I love Charing X is because Foyles bookshop lives there.
I could live there – free Wi-Fi, a lovely clean cafe with gorgeous eats and floor upon floor filled with books on every conceivable subject.
While having a coffee there last week I decided I needed to get to the Creative Writing section. I found it literally straight across and down the stairs from where I was sitting. It made me wonder if they’ve realised that siting it there would be a good business decision as probably half the people in the cafe are drinking coffee and busily typing the ‘Next Great British Novel’.
Scanning the shelves I found this book ‘The Amazing Story Generator’.
It’s a writing prompt book where all the pages are split into 3 pieces and you can mix and match them.
I hope I didn’t disturb the rather serious lady next to me with my snorting and giggling as I haphazardly created such gems as
“Suffering from incessant hallucinations, a computer hacker goes on a blind date”
“A thousand years from now, a night watchman joins the Mafia”
I’m currently challenging myself with this one, “With only a week to live, an old lady with twenty cats is transported to another galaxy!”
This is one reason why there will always be bookshops no matter how big Amazon gets. I think ‘flickability’ is what will ultimately save bricks and mortar shops. Even Amazon’s ‘look inside’ does not stack up against having a book in your hand and flicking through the pages. I probably wouldn’t even have seen my story generator book on amazon, but I saw it straight away on the shelf, picked it up and had 10 minutes of good concentrated flicking and of course I bought it. I had to, it appealed to my sense of humour. At the same time I bought Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld novel “The Shepherd’s Crown”. Yes, I could have bought it cheaper online, but it was there, displayed front and centre and it was the first day of publication. As readers will know I’m a huge fan of the inimitable Sir Terry and the memory of buying his last book at Foyles will stay with me forever. Similarly despite having bought hundreds of books online over the years I only have memories of one purchase. It was in the mid-90s and I was making my very first international internet purchase. I bought ‘Your Money or Your Life’ by Joe Dominguez from Barnes & Noble in New York and cheering when it all went through smoothly. Incidentally spending money online did get easier as time went on – too easy and forgettable!
But my ‘in person’ book purchases were all memorable. I vividly remember queuing for hours outside a Horsham bookshop waiting to buy Sir Terry’s ‘Thief of Time’ with him there in person to sign it. The bookshop staff kept us fed with big boxes of sweets being passed up and down the queue.
Or the time Alan Titchmarsh regaled me at a book signing with anecdotes about his mate Russell Harty. I remember chatting to the beautifully elegant Bruce Oldfield about his book on fashion. He was my favourite designer at the time and I’m sure I was almost walking out backwards and curtseying at the same time!
How can you have experiences like these without bookshops? A YouTube video of an author signing just doesn’t cut it. Getting back to Charing X there are also glorious dusty second-hand bookshops on the road and a wonderful musical instrument shop selling mainly guitars. More flickability with some strumability thrown in for good measure. Note to self, Ukulele practice is long overdue!